Traditional Entrepreneurship for the 21st Century

What happened to “real world” startups? It’s a question I’ve often asked myself since the tech and startup world first piqued my interest, c. December 2010, after taking an amazing course at Università Bocconi in Milan titled Management of the Music Business. It was then when I realized the extent to which technology had dramatically disrupted not only the music space but nearly every consumer-facing industry on the planet, and if I considered myself an entrepreneur by any means then it was in my best interest to dive head first into the world of tech and startups.

Fast forward a year and a half of learning my ass off + entrep community immersion and I’ve finally put my money where my mouth is by starting a business around an original idea for [brace yourselves]: a tangible product (coming soon!). Gasp! Some might call it a budding s̶m̶a̶l̶l̶ ̶b̶u̶s̶i̶n̶e̶s̶s̶, but my startup team and I know that we are going to change the way people display and interact with memories. What’s challenging about building real world stuff is that you have to worry about material sourcing and balancing quality with cutting costs and managing the supply chain and distribution and yikes I can go all day. Each of these processes takes lots of TIME and MONEY and can’t be done at the tip of your fingers. You have to deal with too many actors whose reliability is out of your control. You can’t iterate and roll out new features just like that. Investors aren’t interested because you can’t test the market demand and reaction just like that. It’s hard!

All the attention is on digital and web technology and SaaS these days. I’m not discounting those startups by any means. I’ve never attempted to design a web-based product or build and commercialize software, nor do I truly understand the dev process, so I can’t make a fair comparison between them and real world startups. But I do know that the process of creating real world products and services, and more specifically consumer products (some of my favorite stories include those of Apple, Red Bull, Quiksilver), in what I consider to be traditional entrepreneurship, is pretty damn difficult.

Fortunately, we appear to have reached a beautiful marriage between two of the most disruptive forces in the life of the Internet: e-commerce and social media. Look at all the amazing new crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, powerful e-commerce communities like Quirky and Daily Grommet and Etsy. Did you hear about Shopinterest?! Everyday folks now have the ability to create and sell to large audiences without nearly as much friction as before. Leveraging the latest Internet trends and taking advantage of creative marketing tactics that drive traffic to your site and dollars into your pockets. It still requires hard work and determination, but there’s a lot less risk involved, and there’s help every step of the way.

It’s no secret that power is shifting towards the independent musician, the author, the inventor. And the masses are finally coming around to buying online and hanging out in places where they will undoubtedly discover new brands. We’re going to see a lot of action on the real-world startup front in the near future. Great timing indeed for the entrepreneur in us all.